If President Bush was looking for a striking example of how an
intensive focus on reading, assessment, high expectations, and other
features of his landmark education initiative could turn around
achievement in a struggling school, he appeared to have found it in
Pierre Laclede Elementary School in St. Louis.
The president visited the school last month to talk up the No Child Left Behind Act on its second anniversary and to congratulate Laclede for exemplifying many of the tenets of the federal legislation.
"This school is a school that has performed, you have to say, brilliantly," Mr. Bush said.
Indeed, efforts at improving achievement among the school's 225 students—nearly all of whom qualify for the free or reduced-price lunches—have yielded extraordinary performance gains. Last year, 80 percent of Laclede 3rd graders performed at grade level on state reading tests, compared with just 7 percent four years ago.
Laclede administrators were thrilled to be recognized by the president as a model of urban schooling. But they were also quick to tell him at the Jan. 5 event that the school had paved its own path toward improvement.
"We believe in No Child Left Behind, ... and we didn't have any reservations that our successes would be used to support it," Principal Yolanda Moss said in an interview. "But we would have succeeded with or without it."
Mr. Bush drew chuckles and applause at the event when he admitted that former Principal Joyce Roberts had reminded him Laclede's progress began before the No Child Left Behind Act was passed. He went on to praise schools such as Laclede Elementary for using "reading programs based upon what works, not what sounds good, reading programs based upon the science of reading."
"And it's working," he said.
But Laclede will be forced to change its reading curriculum under Mr. Bush's Reading First program. The school and the 42,000-student St. Louis district currently use a core reading program published by Scholastic Inc. that relies heavily on children's literature. The district is in the process of selecting from among six commercial programs the state has identified as being research-based.
Ms. Moss, however, is not concerned that the change will derail the school's improvement efforts.
"Laclede is renowned for the dedication of its staff," said Ms. Moss, who was a 2nd grade teacher at the school before taking over as the principal this school year. "We will succeed with whatever [reading program the district] gives us."
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Vol. 23, Issue 21, Page 23Published in Print: February 4, 2004, as Federal File